If you want a copy of the bookmark we gave graduates you can get that here.
Headmaster Bunn, faculty, staff, parents, friends, and most importantly, scholars from the class of 2014 it is an honor to be invited to speak to you this evening. As I was preparing for this event I thought back to my high school graduation more than thirty years ago and realized a couple of
I will speak boldly because we are at a season when we do not have time for shrinking words and passionless lives. With “wars and rumors of wars” filling our headlines and our nation seeing the fastest growing religion is “no religion”, it is a day to be bold.
I will speak briefly because those of you who are graduating have the shortest attention span of any graduating class in history. Thanks to the ever-present source of information that is even now burning a hole in your pocket as you wish you could Snapchat, text, check in on Foursquare, or post one more selfie on Instagram (duck lips), your ability to focus upon a talking head has diminished to being almost non-existent. Already I have lost some of you as you think you are secretly posting how you wish this old guy would hurry up, but just so you know, you aren’t that sneaky. So, in case I lose you, these are my three challenges for you: love deeply; live passionately; and listen to God intentionally. Let me repeat so you can tweet…#FCS Go ahead.
Crisis Brings Focus
So what has given me this clarity? Eleven months ago I was diagnosed with a rare form of terminal, incurable cancer. It is a terminal condition, which means that I will die from it or unless something else gets me first. Of course according to one study I’m just as likely to die hitting a deer on the highway at night, and if you have driven 64 after dark you know how risky that is. This cancer is incurable, meaning apart from divine intervention, there is nothing they can do except control my symptoms and buy me some time. All of this means that about a year ago I became keenly aware of my morality. 80% of the people who are diagnosed with my disease that have the level of liver metastasizes that I have die within that initial five-year window. 80%, 8:10 is a tough mortality figure to face. There are 35 graduates tonight, 80% of that is 28, imagine if there were only 7 of you left. Five years from my diagnosis date will be July 10, 2018, in case you are wondering, or about 212 weeks from now. Look at it this way, how many of you are going to college? Go ahead, show me your hands, be proud of your parents’ money that you will spend frivolously on overpriced pizza and color coordinated dorm accessories you won’t be able to find by October due to the enormous piles of laundry all over the floor. If you graduate in four years in 2018, chances are you won’t get a graduation card from me because there is an 80% chance I won’t be around by then. If you are a “special student” and take five years to get through college…well, yeah, you get the picture. Heck, right now I’ll be happy if I get to see Jacob, my son who is a freshman, graduate from FCS in May of 2017. Of course that is assuming he can actually focus long enough to actually do his schoolwork and my frustration with his distractions doesn’t cause me a heart attack first. Cancer doesn't care if you have “important work” to do or the best years of your life ahead of you.
What I know about you, my friends in the Class of 2014, is that most of you are living in your personal fable. Your personal fable is when your emotional, hormone charged mind convinces you that you will never die. And I know you know about your personal fable because you’ve read John Green’s Fault in Our Stars, well those of you that read anyway. And I know that you think I don’t know what you know because you think you know everything I know, but remember, I’ve been your age, you’ve never been my age. I remember when I was your age thinking people my age didn’t know what I knew, but I later discovered they knew what I knew and I was too stupid to know that they knew. Got it? So, yes, you have your whole life ahead of you; I mean there is a good chance that most of you will live to be 100! But take a hint from a guy who probably won’t make it that long, no matter how long you live it will go by very fast.
Life Lesson 1: Love Deeply—love unconditionally and deliberately.
2 Cor. 4: “He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” Is the love of Christ shining in your life? When you realize that you are deeply loved by God, it allows you to be able to love deeply. If you can accept that you are loved deeply, then you can love deeply.
Loving deeply is the opposite of loving cheaply. We don’t really love deeply; we love cheaply. In our social media saturated world where with one click you can be deleted, unfriended, and removed from social contact with another faster than you can get served at most drive-thru, fast food places, we have lost the importance of real intimacy because real intimacy is hard work. Loving deeply is a decision, and it is tough.
We have somehow confused love with a Disney princess movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disney princesses as much as the next guy. I mean my wife is the drama teacher so you KNOW we have done some Disney plays. But what Disney usually depicts is not love. It is crisis-based, overly-simplified, emotionally-laden, hormone-fueled infatuation. The problem with infatuation is that it doesn’t last. Now I know some of you are in “love.” Your heart quickens every time you see her. When he holds your hand you can hardly breath. That is not love, that is asthma, and it will pass. You might say that when it comes to infatuation, you really need to “let it go, let it go…turn away and slam the door.” When I say that you need to invest your life into loving deeply I mean something that will last.
Loving deeply means you make the decision to love unconditionally and deliberately.
Love with conditions isn’t love; it's a contract. It is a mutually beneficial exchange of services by people who have similar interests and who affirm each other. That is not loving deeply. To love deeply is to practice 1 Corinthians 13 as a way of life. That is the famous “love chapter” of the Bible. I’ve read it at more weddings than I can remember. The funny thing is that the writer of this chapter never married. Paul intended for you to live it out, every day with everyone regardless of how you “feel.” Feelings are important, but feelings are fleeting. Loving deeply is more than an emotional response; it is an intentional, daily decision. Here is a list of things that “love is”, and it is rather intimidating:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
I can hear you now, “Are you kidding me? That is impossible. Have you met my brother?” Or your classmate, or that guy at church (yes, people at church are sometimes the hardest to love), or whoever else God places in your path that is difficult to love. Here is one of those hard truths that I have realized as I look squarely at the end of my life. There is nobody that Christ did not die for, whether I like them (or love them) or not. From your pastor to the guy at the end of the exit ramp with a cardboard sign, Jesus paid it all for all of them, too. Not just for me; not just for you.
We have this ridiculous notion that God only loves people who are like us. But the Bible clearly says “God so loved the WORLD…” The world means everybody, even people who don’t vote like me, look like me, or believe like me. Real love means we treat everybody we come into contact with as if they were Jesus. The scripture reminds us that there are times when we have entertained “angels unaware.” Love is the only thing in your life that the more you give away, the more you receive. But there is a problem, sometimes you can really try to love somebody and they can refuse to love you back, you know what that sounds like? That sounds an awful lot like Jesus, who loved you “while you were yet a sinner.”
If you live life in that 1 Corinthians 13 way you are going to get hurt. There are people you can love that will never love you back. So what? Love them anyway. There are people that will use your vulnerability against you. So what? Love them anyway. There are people who will unfriend you over a simple misunderstanding, delete you when you don’t affirm their political view, despise you when you are trying to do your best. So what? Love them anyway.
Do you really want to spend your life wasting time on things that don’t matter? You don’t really want to waste time on grudges, petty differences, or even big offenses? Here is a huge life lesson, the further away you get from high school the more you realize that most of the stuff you were upset over during school will not affect the rest of your life.
Another thing I am certain of is that unforgiveness mostly hurts the unforgiver. When I choose, or you choose, to nurture jealousy, or hurt feelings, or petty differences rather than deeply loving we are really hurting our own heart. Most of the time those who we have unfriended don’t know and/or don’t care. Love “keeps no record of wrongs.” Wow, that stings huh? I mean how many times have you been in an argument and brought up all the stuff from the past as extra ammunition? That means it is not love, its back to that mutual benefit contract relationship. Love is unconditional or it isn’t love at all. Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 4 that “the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light...” What light are you shining? Are you reflecting the unconditional love that God gives you in Christ? Are you showing it?
I believe to love is a deliberate decision. It is not accidental. There is somebody in your life, right now, who needs to know that you love them.
Look down your row, at those who are graduating with you. Statistically one in four high school students in America has had some serious bouts with depression and felt unloved. One in ten have had such a major issue with depression that they have had suicidal thoughts. There is somebody near you who has wondered whether God loves them or anyone else loves them because we are so uptight about showing people how much we care that we’d rather let them suffer than risk being awkward.
Yes, I know it is awkward sometimes, but this is what I’ve discovered in the last eleven months, the more you say it, the less awkward it becomes. The more you show it, the easier it is to live it. Like everything else, the more you practice the easier it gets.
Don’t just say it, show it. Love is more about life service than lip service. (also a tweetable phrase, #awesomegradspeaker) Words can quickly become cheap if they aren’t backed up with action. Your mama was right when she said that people judge what you do far more than what you say.
Life Lesson 2: Live Passionately—focus on significance not success.
2 Cor. 4 “We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.”
Living passionately is the opposite of living passively. When I was in high school two things that happened almost simultaneously changed the way I looked at my future: I read Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and I took a Dale Carnegie Leadership course. Both of these experiences hammered into my head the importance of resilience. Of getting up when you get knocked down, of not quitting. There were a couple of lessons that stuck out to me then and that I have re-visited in the past eleven months that help me focus upon living passionately and keeping my focus on what is significant, and not what culture defines as success: be proactive; begin with the end in mind.
Living passionately means we must be proactive, not reactive. We let life come at us rather than being proactive. Every time in my life when I have lived as a reaction to my circumstances I regretted it.
Being proactive means you take responsibility and you take action. Some of you have skated through high school and allowed your parents to make all of your decisions. Some of you have even let them “help” with your projects. It is time for you to take responsibility and to take action. When you get to college most of your professors won’t know who your parents are and they really won’t care. As a matter of fact, they are not even allowed to talk to your folks, so if you don’t show up, they won’t care. They will just flunk you out of school and send you back home to get a job. At my college freshman orientation the dean of NCSU told me to look to the right and to the left. Then she said, “one of the three of you will drop out of school by the end of your first year.” She was right, it was me.
Some of it is not your fault, I know, because my generation is the generation of “helicopter parents.” We want you to succeed so badly that we forgot to let you fail. We put knee pads and elbow pads on you when you road your bike so you wouldn’t get skinned up. You had car seats, helmets, and safety bars on just about everything. We gave you a trophy for showing up and did everything we could to keep you from “losing.” And I'm sorry, because this means that when the day comes when bad things happen some of you will be devastated. No matter how much we try to protect you, your life will have hurt, pain, and failure. As long as we live in a world broken by sin, there will be times when things stink.
Bad things happen to good people. I don’t have time to go into a diatribe about my theology of sin; but when you are ready to discuss the deeper things, let me know. I’ll be happy to ask you hard questions and shake up your understanding of God and sin. Just know that there are times when life is hard. Long before Vince Lombardi said, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up,” Paul wrote, “We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.” So get up. Make a plan and get moving. When you get the news my family received on July 10, 2013 you have two choices, “get busy living or get busy dying” (if you are reading this on my blog, this is the scene where I got that great quote from Shawshank Redemption clip here).
If I could give you any gift at all, I’d give you resilience: the ability to keep moving when it would be easier to stop; the determination to go to work when it would be easier to quit; the perseverance to keep showing up. A long time ago a wise man who was very successful told me his secret to success: keep showing up. Refuse to quit.
Living passionately also means beginning with the end in mind. I have often made the joke that I wanted a thousand people at my funeral; wow, that’s egotistical. What I meant is that I wanted to look back at my life and know that I helped people get connected to God, to others, and to their divine calling. I have always had “an end in mind,” but now it is even more pressing. Now that I have limited energy, I have to begin every day thinking “what is the most important thing I can do for the kingdom of God today?” The amazing thing is that if you are busy loving deeply and you have a picture of what you want your end to look like, priorities are easier. That doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes, that I don’t waste some of those precious 1,440 minutes I’m given every day playing lame games online, cause who doesn’t like Minions? But it does mean that I am making an intentional decision to focus on a life of significance. For me this means I disciple a few people more deeply rather than a leading a lot of people to make a surface decision.
Since I was twelve years old I’ve wanted to be a writer, but I kept putting it off, there would always be time for that. Now, there isn’t time. What is it you are putting off because you think you will have time for it later? In the past eleven months I’ve written more than 250,000 words. I have written more than 40,000 words about my initial month or so having a terminal illness, 50,000 in a daily devotion series “Welcome to a Life that Matters,” thousands of words for blogs and articles. I am finally doing what I dreamed I would do
What is it you want to do? It is okay not to know right now, but I am betting you have some idea of something you want to do. Climb Mount Everest, become a doctor, write a novel. Good. Write it down, put it somewhere you will see it every day and do something, every day, that will bring it closer into becoming a reality.
Life Lesson 3: Listen to God Intentionally—focus on where God is leading, not what others are saying.
2 Cor. 4 “Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.”
Our world is loud and God usually whispers. Culture defines success by what you gather; significance is defined by what you give.
I recently read Daring Greatly by Brene’ Brown. One thing she said really stuck with me, it was that most of us define our lives by what we lack. Our self-definition revolves around the statement, “I’m not ___________ enough.” I’m not smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, big enough, fast enough.
I grew up never thinking I was enough. My father abandoned me; I wasn’t a good enough son. I was cut from the team; I wasn’t a good enough athlete. I didn’t get to go to our honors class trip to Washington because we didn’t have the money, I wasn’t wealthy enough. I was never the best at anything; I was never enough because in my mind if you weren’t the best, you weren’t enough. Every time I had any set back, it reinforced my not being enough. I have spent my whole life trying to prove myself. In the past eleven months I have come to realize that I am enough because Jesus says so.
We have a focus on scarcity when we serve a God of abundance. God made you. Jesus redeemed you. The Spirit inspires you because you are worth it. You are enough. You are the YOU God created you to be. The key is to quit listening to the voices of culture that tell you what you aren’t good enough, or rich enough, or smart enough. Quit listening to voices of people who don’t really care about you. Quit listening to voices of people simply trying to sell you a hollow image or consumption-based ideal. Abercrombie and Hollister just want your cash, they don’t want you to change the world. Your calling is not to be simply consumers, your call is to be creators of a new world, sculptors of the future, connectors in a global movement to live out the gospel to the streets of New York, and New Delhi. Listen to God who reveals to you who you really are. Listen for God to whisper to you when you study the scripture; when you worship; and spend time serving those who can offer you nothing in return. Then will you truly understand what it means to love deeply and live passionately. There has never in the history of humanity been a time when one person could make a difference like today. With that technology is in your hands you can communicate around the world. You can work for justice in ways not even conceived just a few years ago. Don’t waste the opportunity God has given you. Love deeply; live passionately; and for the sake of a world far from God, listen to God intentionally. God will not make you listen. God invites you to listen. God is speaking. The question is are you listening?
Consumed by the Call,
Dr. Marty Cauley
Some of the research came from these sites:
Consumed by the Call,
Dr. Marty Cauley
Some of the research came from these sites: